It's very important that you abide by the deadlines laid out by the schools you are applying to. After you've chosen schools, look over their dates and deadlines and put together a calendar or timeline to help you plan out your application process. Here are some explanations of different options typically offered for submitting applications:
Regular Admission - This is the most common timeline for admissions. You submit your application by one specific deadline, and you hear back by mid-April. If you've been accepted, you must let the school know if you will be attending by May 1st.
Early Admisssion - For these application options, you apply early (before November) and hear back over winter. There are two types of early admission:
Rolling Admission - This means a school will accept applications on a continuous basis throughout the year and reply to them as they are processed (usually 1 to 2 months after they're submitted).
Each school you apply to will require an application form to be filled out with your all of your official information. Start gathering this information now into a single file (address, phone numbers, social security number, citizenship, schools previously attended, etc) so that you can fill multiple application forms quickly, easily, and accurately. The application forms can be accessed from college websites, and while you can submit hand-completed applications by mail, most schools prefer electronic submissions now.
The Common App is a standardized application form used by many schools across the country. The benefit of this is that you can fill it out once and submit it to all the schools you are applying to that accept it (just make sure that you are applying to participating colleges first).
The essay is a very important component of the college application. This is your chance to communicate directly with the admissions officers from the schools of your choice and stand out as more than a test score or GPA.
Just like writing any essay for school, the best strategy is to:
This process may take a few weeks, but once you have one great essay, you can use it as a starting point for other application essays. This experience will improve your writing and help prepare you for college (where consistent writing is expected). The content of your essay will be dictated by the prompts that the college application supplies, but remember to connect the essay to you, your abilities, and why you belong at the school you're applying to.
Make sure to find out how many recommendations are required by the schools you are applying to. Once you know how many you need, approach teachers, counselors, coaches, etc. from your junior and senior years of high school who know you well and have a positive opinion of you. It's a good idea to ask for recommendations well in advance (at least a month if not more) and give them a stamped and addressed envelope so they can send the recommendation themselves. Remember you'll need a separate copy of each recommendation for each school you're applying to. Recommendations are to be sealed, so you typically won't get to see what they wrote about you. After they've written you a recommendation, it's common courtesy to send a thank you card as a sign of appreciation.
Submitting your academic records is a necessary part of the application. Usually, you just need to request them to be sent to the schools you are applying to, and pay a nominal fee of some kind. Make sure to find out from your high school(s) what their policy is regarding transcripts. Each school also requires a different amount of time to send out the transcripts, so you should plan accordingly. If your high school requires 2-3 weeks to send out your transcript, don't contact them a week before your college application is due!
It's also a good idea to get a copy of your transcript for yourself to make sure there aren't any errors. At the end of your school year, after you're done applying to colleges, getting accepted, and choosing one to attend, a final transcript will be sent to your chosen school containing your complete academic record including your senior year. So make sure you do your best in your last year of high school!